Bruce Jackson (b. 1936), 50th Anniversary of Terre Humaine, 2005; color photograph; Courtesy of the artist

Bruce Jackson (b. 1936), 50th Anniversary of Terre Humaine, 2005; color photograph; Courtesy of the artist

Bruce Jackson Being There, France 2005

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Throughout the run of Being There: Bruce Jackson Photographs 1962-2010, the artist is sharing some of the stories behind his photographs.Being There is on view until June 16, 2013. The catalog accompanying the exhibition is available at The Museum Store at the Burchfield Penney.


2005 was the 50th anniversary of Terre Humaine, the great French humanistic anthropology book series created and edited by Jean Malaurie. I have two books in that series, In the Life: Versions of the Criminal Experience (US 1972, French translation 1975), and Death Row, which was co-authored by Diane Christian (US 1980; French translation 1986). Bibliothèque national de France—the French equivalent of the Library of Congress—put on a huge celebration in honor of the Terre Humaine anniversary: a four-day conference, several film screenings, and a large exhibit (in which I had some photographs). The overall name for the BNF event was Louons maintenant les grands hommes, which is the French translation of the title of one of the two greatest American Modernist prose works, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941) by James Agee and Walker Evans (the other is William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, 1936). There are three French editions of that book, all in Terre Humaine: 1972, 1993 and 2002. Jean Malaurie published that 2002 edition, for which I wrote the post-face, as the book to celebrate the series' anniversary.

During the conference, French president Jacques Chirac hosted a reception at Élysée Palace for Malaurie, the other Terre Humaine writers and several people from BNF and the French literary establishment. The reception was scheduled for two hours. Chirac was supposed to be there for ten minutes, but he stayed well over an hour. After I took this photo of him talking to Malaurie (Chirac is in the center, Malaurie is gesturing with his right hand and wears in his lapel the rosette of officier in the Légion d'Honneur) I joined the conversation. After I said one or two sentences in French, they all, without a pause, switched to perfect English.

Like most photographers, I often remember the pictures I didn't take but should have as well as the ones I did. There were waiters going around the room with wonderful hors d'oeuvres and champagne, but there was also a bar to the left of where we're standing in this photo. I saw a colorful food tray on the far left of the bar and went over to see what it was. It turned out to be cylinders of smoked salmon about ¾" thick and 2" high, all of them topped with a generous spoon of red Ossetra caviar. I started in on it and was immediately joined by Azurget Tarbaienva Shaoukenbaieva, rector of the Polar Academy in St. Petersburg. Azurget and I had known one another for several years, but I don't think she and I said a word to one another; we just grinned at one another and stood there with our backs to the room doing what we could to demolish the contents of that tray. The tray was at the periphery of the action, so we were undisturbed. The color combination of the salmon and Ossetra was beautiful, particularly with the fresh champaign flutes the vastly amused bartender kept bringing us. It got to a point where neither of us could manage another cylinder, so we rejoined the room. I'd so overindulged by then I had no interest whatsoever in looking at those beautiful red and orange cylinders, so the photo never got made.

Chirac and I got into another discussion after that. I no longer remember about what, but from this picture, taken by his photographer, it looks like we were had moved onto something other than publishing books. The man whose face is partially visible over my left shoulder is Jacques Lacarriére, a wonderful writer, perhaps best known for L'Été grec (Greek Summer, 1976). In 1991, the Académie française awarded Jacques its Grand Prize in Literature for the body of his work. He died not long after this photograph was taken. The man in military uniform in the background seemed never more than a few paces from Chirac; he carried a briefcase.

-Bruce Jackson


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